CBS News legend Lane Venardos dies

CBS News

Last Updated 4:21 p.m. ET

Lane Venardos, an award-winning producer of live news, special events and documentaries over a 30-year career with CBS News, has died at the age of 67.

Venardos suffered a heart attack Friday in his home in Maui, HI., where he retired several years ago.

During his long career, he was executive producer of the "CBS Evening News" and a vice president for hard news. Though celebrated with 13 Emmy Awards over the course of his career, he is also remembered for his larger-than-life personality and a great sense of humor.

"Lane was a wonderful and talented man who had a great gift: He had the ability to make everyone around him smile and laugh no matter what the circumstances," said Jeff Fager, Chairman of CBS News and executive producer of "60 Minutes." "So many of us at CBS News loved him and we will miss him very much."

After stints in radio news in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York for CBS Radio and NBC (as serving as acting news director at CBS Station WBBM), Venardos returned to Washington in September 1974 to become a producer for the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." Venardos spent a dozen years on the "Evening News" in Washington and New York, rising to executive producer in 1984.

Venardos played an integral, behind-the-scenes role in CBS News coverage of major events and breaking news beginning in 1986, when he was named executive producer of Special Events, eventually becoming the unit's deputy director, director, and ultimately, vice president, Hard News and Special Events. The job took him across the globe and once into the living rooms of millions of Americans. During special coverage of the events in China's Tiananmen Square in May 1989 - broadcast live during an interruption of the CBS hit "Dallas" - millions watched the large, bespectacled Venardos arguing with Chinese officials who were trying to shut down his satellite news operation.

He produced most of CBS News' live coverage of the Persian Gulf War, including "America Tonight," a weeknight news program he created to maximize coverage of the war broadcast at 11:30 p.m., and anchored by Charles Kuralt and Lesley Stahl. Venardos also supervised coverage of world summits in Moscow, Malta, Iceland, London, Bonn, Rome, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing, in addition to Hirohito's funeral in Japan in 1989, and the historic meeting between the leaders of China and the Soviet Union that same year in Beijing. He was the executive producer of CBS News coverage of the political campaigns of 1986, '88, '90, '92 and '98.

Venardos' documentary work included two highly-acclaimed programs: The CBS News special celebrating the life of Lucille Ball, "Lucy," produced and broadcast on April 26, 1989, the day of the star's death; and the seminal documentary "48 Hours on Crack Street," the two-hour look at the life of crack cocaine addicts during the drug epidemic of the mid-Eighties, for which he won an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University award. The program was the precursor of the current CBS newsmagazine "48 Hours Mystery."

Venardos retired in January 2000 but remained a consultant to CBS News through election night that year. Directly following his retirement, he returned to New York periodically in a new role: using his considerable special event talents to produce several of the "Survivor" live final episodes for the CBS Television Network.

He also worked on several other reality TV programs, including "The Apprentice," "The Contender" and "The Biggest Loser."

Joe Peyronnin, who worked with Venardos at CBS News for 25 years, said his friend personified what was great about CBS News, and will be best-remembered for his extraordinary sense of humor and personality. "'Let's get out there and scratch that surface!'" he would often quip," Peyronnin recalled.

"Working with him, no matter how difficult the task, was always fun," he said. "His energy, his passion and his down-to-earth character were incredibly endearing."

Born June 20, 1944 in Alton, Ill., Venardos was graduated from Southern Illinois State University in 1966 with a B.A. degree in business administration.

He is survived by his wife, Karen; a brother, John; and four children: Kevin, Kimberly, Kelly Venardos-Ward, and Kasey Venardos Gilhuly.

Arrangements for a memorial service are to be announced at a later date.

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